Category Archives: Entertainment

Music hall, cabaret, dance hall

Jean Droit: a Scout Forever

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‘Brévitas’ by Charles Scharrès and Paul Berlier, published by L’Art Belge (Bruxelles, 1917) and illustrated by Jean Droit.

Already a lot has been documented on Jean Droit, the creator of the two sheet music covers at the beginning of this post. He designed posters and post cards, and illustrated magazines and books. Jean Droit (1884-1961) was a Frenchman and very much a patriot. He grew up in Belgium and always would keep an emotional bond with it.

Illustration Jean Droit pour partition musicale de Charles Scharrès (1915)
‘Déjeuner de soleil’ by Charles Scharrès, lyrics by Edmond Rostand. Published by L’Art Belge (Bruxelles, 1915). Illustration by Jean Droit.

In WWI Jean Droit actively fought at the front, and regularly acted as war journalist sending reports and drawings from the trenches to L’Illustration. He got wounded many times, and received the appropriate honours and decorations. Again in WWII, Jean Droit joined the army to defend his country.

Aquarell from Jean Droit (1914)
‘L’enlèvement des Allemands – Bois de Crévie- Meurthe-et-Moselle, 28 août 1914’. Aquarelle by Jean Droit for the magazine L’Illustration. source: Eric Dyvorne, Souvenirs de Campagne – Grande Guerre 14-18.

Being a lover of nature and forest Jean Droit became a pioneer and fervent defender of the Boy Scout movement in France and Belgium. The motto ‘Once a Scout, always a Scout‘ certainly applies to him. Shortly before his death, at the age of 77, Jean Droit aka Talkative Woolf attended his last camp.

le-loup-bavarde-jean-droitHe wrote and illustrated many books for children and teens on how to be the perfect scout, how to wear your uniform correctly and other essentials of Scoutism.

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‘Marche des Boys Scouts’ by A. Bosc, published by Auguste Bosc (Paris, 1928) and illustrated by Jandumon.

For many Boy Scouts at that time, an ‘Indian‘ was a hero and a symbol of the closeness to nature and the great outdoors. Likewise, Jean Droit had a fascination for Native Americans since his childhood and for emulating Natives who roamed the Great Plains of North America.

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Left: Jean Droit in Native American dress (s.d.). Right: Jean Droit in Boy Scout uniform, (1961). Source: Scoutwiki.

In 1929, together with the like-minded Paul Coze, he founded the study group Wakanda. Its goal was the study of the life and art of the Native Americans through exhibitions, performances, camping, games, and outdoor life, and through a lasso club. For the lasso club they weirdly had to change roles and become a cowboy.

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Paul Coze making publicity for the ‘Club du Lasso’.

Paul Coze aka Panther on the Lookout, had started Boy Scoutism in France and tried to introduce Indianism to the great dismay of the Catholic clergy.

In Paris Paul Coze and Jean Droit were inspired by a Yakima chief Oskomon (his name meaning green maize) who, according to his professional partner Molly Spotted Elk, was neither a Yakima nor a chief. Nonetheless Paul Coze introduced Charlie Oskomon into the Parisian high society where he met his patron Mme Clement-Herscher. She would manage his career until 1939.

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Charlie Oskomon at dinner with the Parisian beau monde, 1930.

Mme Clément introduced her protégé Chief Oskomon to Molly Spotted Elk. Both soon started performing together. The handsome vaudeville dancer and singer Charlie Oskomon, who had previously performed as a Show Indian in America, charmed the Parisian beau monde. A delicate marquis remembered that he felt overcome by a deep vertigo watching Chief Oskomon’s athletic body with its virile force and its dramatic and violent expression. Another contemporary wrote: “He dances with the ease of a young savage god. He seems impregnated by a holy light.”

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Left: Portrait photo of the real Indian “Os-Ko-Mon”, a chief of the tribe of the Yakima Indians, who appeared as a medicine man at the Karl May Festival in 1939 Rathen (Graphische Anstalt Gebr. Garloff, Magdeburg) source: http://karl-may-wiki.de. Right: Oskomon in war attire (Picture by Sonya 1924).

Charlie Oskomon with his noble carriage made a great impression on Jean Droit and Jean Coze, and they became friends. He would frequently perform in their Cercle Wakanda, and they  published his poems. These were translated in French by the marquise de Luppé, another one of his female patrons. According to Jean Coze’s wife, Oskomon was ill-tempered and was being kept by Mme Clément and a bunch of other crazy old women. In that way he earned enough to live very comfortably in Paris.

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Chief Oskomon circa 1930 in Paris.

In 1931 Chief Oskomon’s partner Molly Spotted Elk performed at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale, a six-month colonial exhibition held in Paris. This event attempted to display the diverse cultures and immense resources of France’s colonial possessions. At the same time Chief Oskomon would perform at the parallel Exposition de la Mission, organised by his pal Paul Coze.

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Cherokee‘ by Maury Madison published by Salabert (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by MJ. The photograph shows the United States’ Indian Club, managed by Thomas O’Brien.

Between the crackling of the 78 rpm disc you can hear Chief Oskomon singing a sun dance, albeit arranged and orchestrated by the aforementioned Mme Clément who happened to be a composer. Years later in 1960, Jean Droit would meet Charlie Oskomon again in New York where he was working as a doorman.

It is said that Jean Droit was deeply Catholic. All the more surprising to find numerous lightly erotic images in his oeuvre. One of the nicest is this one for L’Escapade by Henri De Regnier. A reader of these pages might remember Henri De Regnier of the Académie Française as the adoptive father of Tigre, another sheet music illustrator.

Jean Droit's illustration for L'Escapade (1941), by Henri de Regnier. source:
Jean Droit’s illustration for L’Escapade (1941), by Henri de Regnier. source: Freddy Daems

To our surprise we found in our archives a small collection of eight catalogue cards delicately drawn by Jean Droit. They were printed by the famous Bénard lithographer from Liège for the elegant fur stores of Charles & Cie.

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Four catalogue cards for Charles & Cie , illustrated by Jean Droit (Liège, s.d.)
Four catalogue cards for Charles & Cie , illustrated by Jean Droit (Liège, s.d.)
Four catalogue cards for Charles & Cie , illustrated by Jean Droit (Liège, s.d.)

Hey, why not some music after this avalanche of images? We find Serge Gainsbourg appropriate: he had an ugly fight in the media with Michel Droit, son of Jean Droit, who as a conservative writer and journalist greatly took offense at the reggae version of the Marseillaise. Michel Droit wrote in Figaro Magazine (1979): “Quand je vois apparaître Serge Gainsbourg je me sens devenir écologiste. Comprenez par là que je me trouve aussitôt en état de défense contre une sorte de pollution ambiante qui me semble émaner spontanément de sa personne et de son œuvre, comme de certains tuyaux d’échappement… “(*).
Of course Gainsbourg reacted furiously in the media. Et cetera !

(*) Michel Droit: When I see Serge Gainsbourg appear, I feel myself become an environmentalist. Understand by this that I instantly find myself in a state of defence against a kind of atmospheric foulness that seems to spontaneously emanate from his person and work, as from certain exhaust pipes…

Madame Rasimi’s Ba-Ta-Clan

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‘Hullo Clown’ by Roger Guttinguer, published by Lucien Brulé (Paris, 1923) and illustrated by M. A. Bonnami.

This captivating drawing of a clown by Marie-Antoinette Bonnami illustrates a song from one of Madame Rasimi’s revues. After her divorce from the director of the Casino-Kursaal in Lyon, she developed her own entertainment career in Paris. There she became the pioneer of revues with nearly-nude women, elegant costumes and lavish sets. Madame Bénédicte (aka Berthe) Rasimi was the owner of the Ba-Ta-Clan from 1910 until 1926. Under her direction the music hall achieved its greatest success.

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Madame Rasimi, 1915

When it started in 1864, the Ba-Ta-Clan was a vaudeville theatre where people met to have a drink and watch jugglers and acrobats. Or one could see a ballet, listen to concerts, play billiards or have a dance. Its name was borrowed from Offenbach’s operetta, and its architecture and decor was equally inspired by the Chinoiserie musicale.

Postcard of the Ba-Ta-Clan on the Boulevard Voltaire in the Bastille quarter of Paris.
Postcard of the Ba-Ta-Clan on the Boulevard Voltaire in the Bastille quarter of Paris (ca 1900).
The entrance of the Ba-Ta-Clan and its staff around 1910.
The entrance of the Ba-Ta-Clan and its staff around 1910.
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Left: before Rasimi’s time, the Ba-Ta-Clan featured Miss Matthews and her mysterious serpentine dance, and also Paulus on a bicycle. Right: another Belle-Epoque poster for a revue around 5 tableaux vivants. (source: Bibliotheque Nationale de France).

Madame Rasimi changed the Ba-Ta-Clan, but not into an elitist music hall nor in a theatre showing abundant nakedness (that reputation was reserved for the Folies-Bergère, l’Olympia and the Casino de Paris). In the Ba-Ta-Clan the audience rather revelled in the pleasure of discovering sumptuous decors and magnificent costumes, mostly designed by Madame Rasimi herself. And there were of course a host of big stars to overwhelm the public: Mistinguett, Maurice Chevalier, Parisys… Rasimi’s troupe brought acts which were a mix between chorus lines, classical ballet and tableaux vivants. But always intertwined with a bit of naughty nudity.

Thus, the writer Colette also performed for Madame Rasimi in 1911 and again in 1912. In the pictures below we see Colette in her dressing room in the Ba-Ta-Clan. Her costume for La Chatte Amoureuse is rather demure, but in other pantomimes she donned the obligate bit of nakedness.

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Above: two pictures of Colette in her dressing room at the Ba-Ta-Clan. Below: Colette in La Chair.

In 1914 the Ba-Ta-Clan very optimistically announced its spring and summer revue: “The spring season will be the most amazing attraction in Paris during these splendid months…which only the hot July sun will be able to interrupt…The name itself ‘Y’a d’ jolies Femmes’ is a find. And be assured there will be a lot of beautiful girls, undressed with this exquisite art, suggestive, candidly lewd and deliciously perverse…”. And strangely, as a matter of fact the outbreak of the First World War was by no means counterproductive for the Ba-Ta-Clan. Au contraire, Madame Rasimi put on no less than 18 revues!
During the Great War the theatre programs all had the same illustration by Georges Lepape: a girl in a garden who has to choose between a mysterious missive from a masked man or a rose from a toothless devil.

Theater program for le Ba-Ta-Clan, illustrated by Georges Lepape. 1916 - Bibliothèque Nationale.
Illustration by Georges Lepape for the Ba-Ta-Clan program during WWI – Bibliothèque Nationale.

Also during the war, in 1917, Madame Rasimi staged the famous oriental pantomime L’Orient Merveilleux ou 1002 Nuits de Bagdad with two of the biggest stars of the music hall, Maurice Chevalier and Mistinguett. The famous Erté designed and costumed an entire act which featured the favourite of the caliph  wearing ropes of pearls around her breasts and harem pants.

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Costume design by Erté for L’Orient Merveilleux ou 1002 Nuits de Bagdad, Ba-Ta-Clan, Paris, 1917 – Dallas Museum of Art.

After the war, in the roar of the Twenties, Lucien Brulé published gorgeous covers for Madame Rasimi’s productions. They were illustrated by Jack Roberts and by Marie-Antoinette Bonnami.

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Sheetmusic published by Lucien Brulé and illustrated by Jack Roberts and M.A.Bonnami (see Illustrated Sheet Music website).

In contrast to the shows, the covers of the sheet music are rather demure and prudish, probably not to shock the publisher’s larger public. The only titillating cover we have found so far for Madame Rasimi’s productions, is for the Danse des Libellules by Franz Léhar. The illustration is by Georges Dola, though he also made a more mainstream cover for this same popular Ba-Ta-Clan revue.

Sheet music covers illustrated by Georges Dola for 'La Danse des Libellules'.
Two sheet music covers illustrated by Georges Dola for the Franz Léhar revue ‘La Danse des Libellules’.

The pictures below show a few examples of Madame Rasimi’s costumes for La Danse des Libellules.

A BA-TA-Clan, quelques jolies interprètes de la Danse des libellules by Waléry – Comoedia n° 32, 1924 – Bibliothèque Nationale

In 1921 Madame Rasimi produced an abridged music-hall adaptation of the surrealist ballet Le Boeuf sur le toit by Darius Milhaud. She included that personalised version of Le Boeuf sur le toit in one of her revues, of course with a lot of nudity and humour.

Illustration for Le Boeuf sur le toit by Raoul Dufy.
Illustration for Le Boeuf sur le toit by Raoul Dufy.

In 1922 Madame Rasimi took her ensemble on a first South American tour. Other tours would soon follow and her shows were a great sensation in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City. During her first visit she had a conflict with the Brazilian press, who accused her of caricaturing the Brazilian people in her version of Le Boeuf sur le Toit. Madame Rasimi hastened to state in a letter that Ba-Ta-Clan had never offended or ridiculed Brazil in any of its revues: the ultramodern pantomime Le Boeuf sur le Toit, although inspired by Brazilian music only parodied the American Prohibition law. She must have mollified the Brazilian press as her revue became an instant success.

Madame Rasimi’s spectacles triggered a new South American concept, bataclanismo and the bataclana. At the time the word bataclana was used to indicate a kind of female star who represented the erotic, and more dangerous aspect of the flapper. Later the term was used to indicate an actress who is supposedly singing or dancing but is really just showing off her body, and by extension a stripper.

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Madame Rasimi’s bataclanas…

Unfortunately, a tour of South America and the Caribbean in 1926 ruined Madame Rasimi and she had to sell the Ba-Ta-Clan. She bid farewell to her beloved chorus girls who nicknamed her Madame Rase-Mimi (Mrs. Shave-Mimi) because she told them to shave their eyebrows and armpits. Still, Madame Rasimi continued her career as a costume designer well into the Fifties.

Madame Rasimi’s Ba-Ta-Clan was a place for lightness and joie de vivre, not a place for horror. For the moment, I’ll just pretend there is no evil in the world and play an innocent game of Ba-Ta-Clan.

 


Further reading: Bataclanismo ! Or, How Female Deco Bodies Transformed Postrevolutionary Mexico City by Ageeth Sluis

Netta, the most beautiful girl in the world

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Netta by Octave Grillaert published by Le Réveil artistique, Brussels in 1931.

The Netta of this song is a former Miss Belgium who became the first Belgian Miss Universe in 1931. Miss Universe titles had been awarded since 1926 during the International Pageant of Pulchritude held in Galveston, Texas. The Great Depression put an end to this yearly frivolous fuss in the United States, only to surface until after WWII.

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Second International Pageant of Pulchritude in Galveston, Texas, 1927

Annette (Netta) Duchâteau was a modern and daring girl who got herself a pilot license when she was only 19 years old. Even so, crossing the Atlantic in 1931 by boat to participate in the Pageant in Texas must have been quite an adventure for the young lady. The year before, Netta had been crowned Miss Belgium. Notable members of the 1930 Belgian jury were the Flemish writer Stijn Streuvels (Frank Lateur indeed) and the painter Albert Saverys.

Phtograph of Stijn Streuvels and Albert Saverys.
Miss Belgium jury members Stijn Streuvels and Albert Saverys, the two men in the middle of this drinking group (source: http://www.saverys2014.be/albert-saverys).

Here we see a short celebration of Netta having won her title, on the tune of the Brabançonne.

Thanks to an interesting short documentary about the 1929 Austrian Miss Universe, we can visualise the circumstances to which the contestants had to adapt. Like all other contenders, Netta had to be chaperoned (in her case by her mother). She needed a medical certificate to ensure that she could endure standing still on a cart pushed around between the masses for hours, four days on end during the street parades. The candidates could not go out alone without written permission of the committee. They had to swear that they were not artists, did not indulge in drinking nor smoking. They were not allowed to use any kind of make-up. Moreover for Netta the alienation must have been particularly hard: she didn’t speak English.

After her victory, Netta turned down all American marriage proposals. She also refused offers to appear on stage or in commercials, and returned to her native Belgium. There she was welcomed like royalty and again received a lot of marriage proposals. Her success was enormous  compared to Anny Duny, our first Miss Belgium. She appeared in countless magazines and advertising campaigns before becoming a stage actress.

Netta Duchateau praising toothpaste and mouthwash in an advertisement for Bi-oxyne and Rubi-oxyne
Netta Duchateau praising toothpaste and mouthwash in an advertisement for Bi-oxyne and Rubi-oxyne.

Allegedly Netta inspired the American illustrator Lawrence Sterne Stevens when he created the emblem for Belga, a former Belgian cigarette brand that was launched in 1923. The brands name and national colours appealed to the patriotic feelings after the Great War. Sterne Stevens drew a typical modern girl, a flapper with bobbed hair and a cloche hat. In contrast to the earlier Belga Girl by Leo Marfurt, she looks more self-reliant. She is glamorous, accentuates her looks with make-up, and expresses a certain sensuality. And she smokes!

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Left: Poster for Belga cigarettes by Leo Marfurt. Middle: Poster for Belga cigarettes by Lawrence Sterne Stevens. Right: Netta Duchateau

Even René Magritte created designs for the Belga cigarettes. He didn’t need a beauty queen for a model though, he had his beautiful wife Georgette. He painted her looking straight at the viewer, holding a cigarette before his familiar blue sky with white clouds. Although Magritte referred to his work in publicity as ‘idiotic work’, this design blurs the boundary between painting and advertising. The second advertising image for Belga cigarettes is signed Studio Dongo. This was a small advertising company he owned together with his brother Paul who was also a composer. Both Magritte’s projects for Belga were rejected.

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Left: Advertising project for Belga cigarettes by René Magritte. RIght: Poster design for Belga cigarettes by Studio Dongo.

Thanks to Netta’s victory in Galveston the next Miss Universe pageant was held in Spa, Belgium. It was won by a Turkish beauty. At the end of the video, we get a glimpse of Maurice de Waleffe, the omnipresent gentleman when beauty contests had to be organised. He is recognisable by his telltale moustache.